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Jaime B's Blog

Know Your Citrus: A Compendium

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Perfumers use a lot of different materials derived from the citrus family of trees, also called "hesperides." The name hesperides is from the Greek ἔσπερ [read: hésper], a word meaning both "evening" and "west" (because the evening sun sets in the west). The association with the west is probably that citrus fruits and trees were first introduced to Europe by explorers returning from East Asia to Spain and Portugal, the extreme western countries of continental Europe. This will become more obvious when we see that terms like Seville and Valencia oranges and Oil of Portugal come up in the names of some citrus sources and products, and even in perfume names containing the word "Portugal," as in Bois du Portugal and Eau de Portugal, where the word "Portugal" refers to orange-derived perfume notes.

OK, here goes the list of citrus-based perfume terms, with names, descriptions, and etymologies:

Bigarade is the essential oil obtained by the expression of the rind of the fruit of the bitter orange (or Seville orange) tree, Citrus aurantia (var. amara). "Bigarade" is the French name of the bitter orange.

Neroli is the product obtained from the blossoms of the bitter orange tree by enfleurage. The name is traditionally ascribed to the seventeenth century Italian Anne Marie Orsini, Duchess of Bracciano and Princess of Nerola, who introduced the essence of the flowers of the bitter orange tree as a fashionable fragrance by using it to perfume her gloves and her bath.

Petitgrain is the name generally applied to the oil obtained from the leaves, buds, and twigs of the same bitter orange tree; this is more specifically named Petitgrain Bigarade. There are other types of Petitgrain: Petitgrain Citronnier, which comes from the same parts of the lemon tree (Citrus limon); and Petitgrain Mandarin, from the leaves and twigs of the Mandarin tree (Citrus reticulata). "Petit grain" is French for small seeds, a reference to the materials used to produce the essential oil.

The essential oil obtained by expression or steam distillation from the rind of the fruit of the sweet orange (or Valencia orange) tree, Citrus aurantia, var. dulcis, is called Oil of Portugal. "Burtughal" is modern Arabic for both Portugal and orange; the classical Arabic word for orange is "naranj," from which the Spanish word "naranja" and the Portuguese "laranja" are derived.

Orange blossom (Fleurs d'Oranger) as a note description in perfume can denote oil obtained by enfleurage from the blossoms of the sweet orange tree, to distinguish it from Neroli, which is obtained from the flowers of the bitter orange tree. "Fleurs d'Oranger" is French for orange tree flowers.

Oil of Lemon (Citronnier) is an essential oil obtained by expression of the rind of the fruit of the lemon tree (Citrus medica, var. limonum). "Citronnier" is French for lemon tree.

Fleurs de Citronnier can refer to the oil of lemon blossoms. "Citronnier" is the French name of the lemon tree; "fleurs" is flowers.

Oil of Cedrat is a name given to a mixture of oils from various citrus sources. The word "cédrat" in French refers to the citron tree and fruit. ("Citron" is the French word for lemon.)

Bergamot Oil is the oil obtained by expression from the (inedible) fruit of the Bergamot tree (CItrus aurantia, var. bergamia). There is also a Bergamot absolute, refined from the oil, and having a semi-solid, slightly waxy character. It is probably the most important (and most expensive) of the citrus oils. Most of the world supply comes from southern Italy. The name is said to come from a Turkish phrase, "beg-armudi," meaning the prince's pear, owing to the pear-like shape of the fruit. Bergamot oil a hallmark of the formulation of chypre scents, but it is also used in many other formulations. It is especially prized for the green and resinous character it combines with the citrus note.

Limette refers to the oil of the rind of the fruit of the lime tree (Citrus medica, var. acida). "Lime" or "limette" is French for lime fruit; "limette" also refers to perfume oils derived from limes.
To summarize:

Bitter Orange tree:
Rind: Bigarade
Flowers: Neroli
Leaves, buds, and twigs: Petitgrain Bigarade
Sweet Orange tree:
Rind: Oil of Portugal
Flowers: Fleurs d'Oranger (Orange Blossom)
Mandarin Orange tree:
Leaves, buds, and twigs: Petitgrain Mandarin
Lemon Tree:
Rind: Citronnier
Flowers: Fleurs de Citrionnier
Mixed Citrus oils: Oil of Cedrat

Bergamot tree:
Rind: Bergamot Oil, Bergamot Absolute
Lime tree: Limette

I hope that about covers it.

(Sources for this post: Nigel Groom, The New Perfume Handbook (2nd Ed.),
London:Chapman and Hall,1997 [ISBN 0-7514-0403-9], and Roja Dove, The Essence of Perfume, London:Black Dog Press, 2008 [ISBN 978-1-906155-49-0])

Updated 26th January 2010 at 06:10 AM by JaimeB

The Fragrance Industry , The Art of Perfumery


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  1. hirch_duckfinder's Avatar
    Jamie an excellent execution of a very valuable endeavour. As always, well written and very informative. Thanks.

    A couple of additional points of interest. Cedrat oil did originally come from expressed oil from citron fruits but on the rare occasion when it is used nowadays it is reconstructed from components of other citrus oils which are much more easilly obtained (source Perfumes of Yesterday by David Williams).

    Re. The Orange Flower/Neroli issue: There seems to be a lack of clarity of interpretation about this from various souces. I have read that both are derived from bigarade flowers but it is the method of extraction which differs - neroli from steam distillation (and enfeurage in the past), orange flower by solvent extraction. Unfortunately I have also read, also from informed sources, the definition you gave that orange flower oil is from the sweet orange tree. I think that the truth may be that there is no universal definition and that the terms are used rather loosly. I will look into it further. Certainly from a personal anecdotal perspective orange flower smells a lot sweeter than neroli, which probably tells us nothing.
    Updated 28th January 2010 at 11:08 PM by hirch_duckfinder
  2. hirch_duckfinder's Avatar
    Updated 20th January 2010 at 03:28 PM by hirch_duckfinder
  3. hirch_duckfinder's Avatar
    sorry again
    Updated 20th January 2010 at 03:28 PM by hirch_duckfinder
  4. jayjupes's Avatar
    thanks for compiling this information and putting it in a format i can understand
    and thanks, hirch, for your additional sources of information
  5. David Ruskin's Avatar
    Unusual to find anything extracted by enfleurage nowadays, I'm afraid. The two main extracts used are oils, obtained by steam distillation, and concretes and absolutes, obtained by solvent extraction. Of course in the case of citus oils there is expression too. I was told that Orange Flower comes from the open flower, whilst Neroli is obtained from the unopened flower buds. However the way you differentiate them makes sense too!
  6. hirch_duckfinder's Avatar
    Wow David - yet another explanation. The murk gets muddier.
  7. JaimeB's Avatar
    I think hirch_duckfinder is probably right in saying that there is some inconsistency on the use of the terms. Perfumery is a fine art, but not an exact science, I'm afraid, at least as it is sometimes practiced.

    For example, I found some references that suggest that Orange Blossom can refer to Philadelphus coronarius or Choysia ternata. Neither of these is a citrus plant. If you're interested, you can find references to these two in wikipedia, though the articles there don't connect them to the term Orange Blossom. Those references are here:
    Updated 20th January 2010 at 06:23 PM by JaimeB
  8. JaimeB's Avatar
    I meant to include this in my original blog post, but it got away from me.

    One of the reasons I posted on this topic is that the next assault of IFRA is going to be the banning or restriction of some citrus oils as perfume ingredients. IFRA claims to have research data that show that citrus oils sensitize the skin to UV radiation, and the EU administration in Brussels is going to be dealing with legislation on this.

    Can we imagine fragrances without natural bergamot, bigarade, petitgrain, and so on? I can't...
    Updated 20th January 2010 at 11:50 PM by JaimeB
  9. hirch_duckfinder's Avatar
    Actually reading that thread there seems to be a consensus amongst the confident posters that neroli is steam extracted and orange blosson solvent extracted, both from bigarade flowers.
  10. JaimeB's Avatar

    I am willing to accept the majority view in that thread.

    The sources I cite in my blog post give the information that I relayed. Roja Dove's 2008 book mentions both neroli and orange blossom. In his listing on neroli, he mentions both steam distillation and solvent extraction, but he doesn't specify the difference as to the names of the products obtained by each. In the listing on Orange Flower, he calls the extraction product an absolute, suggesting that it is a solvent extraction product, judging by what David Ruskin writes in his comment on this post. David is a perfumer, and I am happy to abide by his judgment. When I made my original post, however, I had not seen David's comment, so I missed the clue in Roja Dove's description of Orange Flower.

    The other book I cited, by Nigel Groom, is an older work, from 1997, and is a revision of an even older book, from 1992. I assume that at that time some methods of solvent extraction (such as supercritical fluid extraction, also called CO2 extraction) had not yet been perfected. Groom is the one who refers to Orange Blossom as being derived from sweet orange tree blossoms. He is also the one that talks about the citrus florals being obtained by enfleurage, a very expensive and labor-intensive practice, which I can only assume (relying again on David Ruskin) has been replaced in large part by improved solvent extraction. Groom's account may be valuable as a historic note, for those interested in such things.

    Another misleading bit of information is the French term Fleurs d'Oranger, since oranger is the French name for the sweet orange tree, whereas the bitter orange tree is called bigaradier. This may well have gotten me off track, relying as I often do on linguistic evidence. It is the prejudice of a language teacher, and in this case, I suppose, was misapplied to matters of fact rather than of language.

    In any case, there is a very thorough and clear article on fragrance extraction in wikipedia; point your browser at to see it.
    Updated 21st January 2010 at 08:01 AM by JaimeB
  11. JaimeB's Avatar
    Further research indicates that the origin of the term hesperides for citrus fruits may come from the Greek myth of the Garden of Hesperides, thought to be situated in the extreme west of the then-known ancient world, the Atlas Mountains of Morocco being cited as one possible location.

    The goddess Hera, Zeus' wife, planted a garden there, which was guarded by nymphs. The garden contained either a single tree or a grove of trees (depending on the version of the myth you read) which yielded golden apples.

    It may be that the golden color and round shape of the citrus fruit brought back to Europe from the Far East recalled the golden apples of myth; hence the name hesperides was applied to citrus fruit.
    Golden apples appear in other Greek myths, such as the Apple of Discord, part of the story of the beginning of the Trojan War. Eris, the goddess of discord (Eris means "strife" in Greek), appeared at a wedding banquet offering a golden apple inscribed "To the fairest" (καλλίστῃ) to the greatest beauty at the banquet. This sparked a debate among Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena as to which one of them deserved to win the apple. To decide the question, Zeus appointed Paris, the son of King Priam of Troy, as judge. Each of the three goddesses tried to bribe Paris. He succumbed to Aphrodite's offer of the love of the most beautiful mortal woman in the world, Helen of Sparta, the wife of King Menelaus. Paris ended up abducting her, leading to the Trojan War.

    Another golden apple story is the myth of Atalanta, a maiden who refused to marry. Her father insisted that she wed, and so, she promised to marry the first man who could outrun her in a footrace. Many young men died trying to win the race against her, even though she ran clad in a complete set of armor. Finally, one young man, Hippomenes (or in some versions, Melanion), asked Aphrodite to help him win Atalanta for his wife. The goddess gave him three golden apples from the Garden of the Hesperides, instructing to throw them when Atalanta began to overtake him, thus distracting her, and causing her to lose the race.
    Still, the early association of oranges in Europe with the Iberian peninsula (mentioned in the original post) may be another factor in the association with the west.
    Updated 21st January 2010 at 09:05 AM by JaimeB
  12. David Ruskin's Avatar
    As far as IFRA goes, it is happening already. I do not think there will be an outright ban but definitely a restriction. Certain expressed citrus oils (Bergamot, Grapefruit and Lime; not sure about Lemon) contain chemicals called bergaptenes or, furo-coumarins which have been shown to cause skin sensitization when exposed to UV. This has been known for a very long time, and the level of these chemicals has been restricted in fragrances that could potentially cause this problem. Anyone remember Bergasol? It was a sun tan oil which contained pure, untreated Bergamot Oil. It was removed from the market.
    Essential oil producers who work with citrus oils have been aware of this and have taken steps to reduce the level of the sensitizing chemicals. Anyway, what has happened more recently is that IFRA has drastically reduced the allowed level of these chemicals, and so the Essential Oil producers are faced with the problem of trying to remove even more without changing the quality of their oils. We have been shown several samples of oils that conform to this new legislation; several were terrible but we have found some which were acceptable. I don't think the future is THAT bleak. It will only affect expressed oils, so no problems with Petitgrain, Orange Flower etc. There are greater problems; Oakmoss anyone?
  13. hirch_duckfinder's Avatar
    David - oakmoss is a disaster. As a citrus lover and a classic EDC lover, I also find the citrus restrictions very concerning. Grapefruit I can live without (sulphur anyone?), expressed lime has been restricted for a while already but bergamot is a very big concern. There aren't many perfumes I love without any...I was under the impression that lemon isn't used a great deal due to its tendency to oxidise. Litsea Cubeba is often used for a (natural,botanical) lemony effect. Bigarade oil too is a concern with its resinous/fresh combination effect.
  14. David Ruskin's Avatar
    All citrus oils have a tendency to oxidise. If you were to smell Litsea and Lemon side by side you would see that there is a huge difference between them! As I said I don't think that the future is so bad. The use of Lemon oil ( and Lemon is used a lot) has been restricted in certain applications for some time. Same with Bergamot. It's just that now, the restrictions got a lot tougher. It is down to the suppliers to provide oils which conform to IFRA guidelines and which are acceptable to the perfumers. I'm sure this will happen; is already happening
  15. hirch_duckfinder's Avatar
    Jamie - thanks for your additional comments about hesperides - fascinating.
    I think that the orange flower/neroli issue will continue to be muddy as everybody else seems to share our lack of certainty. The truth may be that the nomenclature has developed pragmatically and with no definitive source.
    Having said that, I will quote David G Williams' superb book Perfumes of Yesterday on P195 - when discussing the bitter orange tree (citrus aurantum var. amara)
    "from the flowers, Neroli oil is distilled, also from the flowers, via the concrete, orange flower absolute by volatile solvent extraction"....

    Later on the same page
    "wheras oil of neroli contains only traces of indole, orange flower absolute contains very much more. In cosequence, the Absolute has a heavy, animalic-floral odour and soon darkens to an orange-brown colour during storage through the effects of oxidation."

    Profumo's Holy Water has a wonderful orange flower and I think the animalic-floral nature is clear.

  16. hirch_duckfinder's Avatar
    David - thanks for that info. Particularly about lemon. They do smell very different, I have some of each here. To me, the litsea does have a somewhat lemony-herbal thing going on (trumper's gft?) and is much heavier, so I guess would sit in the heart long after the real lemon had waved goodbye...
  17. David Ruskin's Avatar
    Indeed both Litsea Cubea and Lemongrass oils are heavy citrus herbal. I always think Lemongrass oil is a disappointment after crushing the actual plant and sniffing that. The oil always smells dirty to me. I think Lemon oil is cleaner and sharper. Major differences are the method of extraction; Litsea and Lemongrass are both distilled, Lemon Oil is usually expressed. Also the major components are found in different proportions. Lemon Oil contains about 70.0% of a terpene called Limonene, and about 3.0% of an aldehyde called Citral. Litsea contains between 50-70% Citral and about 20.0% Limonene. You are quite right when you say that Lemon Oil is more volatile; much more a top note material.
  18. hirch_duckfinder's Avatar
    Fantastic information. Thanks David.
    I don't like lemongrass much either. I do like Litsea (quite dilute) mixed with citrus oils though - gives a big citrusy whack beyond the top notes
  19. hirch_duckfinder's Avatar
    Mandy Aftel in "Essence and Alchemy" confirms the neroli (water distillation) orange blossom (solvent extraction) distinction.
    She also write that neroli from open flowers is more floral and warm from closed flowers more green and citric.
  20. JaimeB's Avatar
    I have looked at Mandy Aftel's book again, sitting here on my shelf as it has been since I read it shortly after it came out. My interest now is to see what she says about water distillation. She mentions "water distillation" specifically on p. 105, in her section on neroli; later, she mentions neroli again on p.114, in distinction to orange flower absolute, and there she says of neroli merely "distilled."

    I wonder if she is talking about steam distillation or if by "water distillation" she means just distillation by floating the flowers on water to release the oils onto the water's surface, which is the method used for extracting attar of roses from the petals of Damask roses.

    I think I remember reading a long time ago that this method of extracting orange blossom oil is used in the Middle East, and that the water remaining after skimming off the oil can be subjected to fractional distillation, yielding various strengths of orange flower water, the weaker varieties being used in the preparation of desserts such as pistachio baklava. In a similar way, fractional distillation of the water remaining from rose attar extraction is used to make rose water, an ingredient scenting almond baklava, Turkish delight, and other similarly aromatic floral desserts of Levantine origin. I myself have made both pistachio and almond baklava using orange blossom water and rose water, respectively.

    Nigel Groom, in his 1997 edition, has an entry on "Orange Flower Water." His definition is that this is distilled water remaining after neroli distillation. He notes that this is sometimes called "Oil of Neroli Water." If you recall, Groom is also one of the sources that asserts that orange blossom essence ("fleurs d'oranger") is distilled from the blossoms of the sweet orange (Valencia orange) tree. Hence much of the ambiguity we have encountered since our conversation began.

    My take on all this is that, at one time at least, some of these terms were ambiguous. All the other evidence we have seen in these comments on my original blog post suggests that the terminology has since been sharpened a bit, so that neroli oil is now used of the product of steam distilled bitter orange blossoms and orange blossom absolute, of the solvent-distilled product. It seems to me that the use of the term "absolute" when referring to orange blossom is decisive in the current usage.

    The thing about orange flower (or orange blossom) absolute is that the solvent extraction preserves the "animalic" character of the blossom, and renders this material more akin to other white florals, such as jasmine, tuberose, gardenia, and so on, with their faint indolic character. Groom ascribes this indolic character to both neroli and orange blossom, though I find it much more noticeable in scents listing "orange blossom" [read: absolute] in their pyramid. Indole is present in even larger proportion in animal-derived scents, such as civet, castoreum, and musk. Among the white florals jasmine and orange blossom seem to be the most often associated with a more prominent indolic note. Roja Dove mentions this in his book (already cited above in another of my comments). Dove says that all "white blossoms" have some degree of indole present.

    There seems to be another factor contributing ambiguity in the discussion of citrus scents: The materials derived from the rinds, leaves, buds, and twigs of citrus trees have a
    character markedly different from that of those derived from the blossoms. Perhaps we should use "citrus" only of the former, and relegate the latter to discussions of "indolic white florals."
    Updated 27th January 2010 at 07:46 AM by JaimeB
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